Disclaimer: I own nothing of the Harry Potter characters.

A/N: Contrary to popular assumption, I have not died. Sorry about the delay, folks. I have been extremely busy of late and the writing has suffered as a result.

**On a personal note; for all of you avid readers... can one of you please tell me the name of the Harry Potter fan fic wherein: Lily and James Potter have been hiding and have additional children, only making themselves and their betrayal known once the war is over and Harry has triumphed.

Please send me a pm if you know the title of this fiction. Gratefully, MK-ONE

Chapter Eleven: The Reckoning

Trembling hands could barely hold the paper that tear filled, bleary eyes could no longer even read.

It's a mistake. It has to be. He wouldn't have let us think..? Not all this time...?

Great racking sobs of agonized grief and regret were held at bay by the merest thread when a possible explanation occurred that could pull her awake from this horrific nightmare of unending torment.

It's got to be some kind of a ploy? Of course, it's a ruse to draw Voldemort out.

Hermione began to calm now that the initial shock had passed and she was able to look at things from a more logical perspective.

Very clever, genius even, but the Dark Lord will see right through it. Though,... can he really take the chance? If Harry were really alive he would pose a threat to Voldemort as no one else ever could,(not even Dumbledore at the height of his power), especially if he had really been trained as an Unspeakable. It's a trap, obviously, but.. how could Voldemort possibly resist what with so many high ranking Ministerial staff and visiting dignitaries in attendance?

She knew with all certainty...He couldn't.

Hermione knew it was a trap to draw Voldemort out. The entire newspaper article was nothing more than an advertisement to get Voldemort's attention and nothing would do that better than the name: Harry Potter.

It was genius, sheer genius. The fact alone that Wraith was going to be receiving the Order of Merlin for rescuing hostages and likewise decimating his forces was enough to have the Dark Lord salivating for revenge, but to add Harry Potter to the mix as a possible target, however unlikely, and it was a done deal.

He would come and the Unspeakables would be waiting.

Hermione paused in her musings, she wished it were true. Every day she hoped she would wake up and find out it had been just that; a ploy, but ..he was gone. There was no bringing back the dead.

How she longed that she could accept the headlines at face value. That she could see her missing friend again if even for a moment. What she wouldn't give for just a few spar seconds to tell him how much she loved and missed him.

Don't go there Hermione. Don't do this to yourself again. She warned herself, scrubbing at her still moist eyes with the sleeve of her blouse. She busied herself with cleaning up the remains of her breakfast, starting by throwing out the Prophet to avoid being haunted by the headline staring ominously up at her from the breakfast table.

She didn't know what the Unspeakables had planned, but she had an invitation to the awards ceremony and one way or another she was going if for nothing more than curiosity's sake. Who knows, maybe she'd even get to see the Dark Lord fall. At least then Harry could finally rest in peace.

At the entrance to the Hall of Mysteries a crowd of reporters had gathered seeking entrance, interviews, comments, anything..?

Likewise a young witch was growling and threatening impotently to gain entrance, but had thus far been coolly rebuffed by one of a half dozen Unspeakables, that were guarding the entrance, dressed in battle robes.

Susan had already given up crying and pleading which had accomplished nothing more than humiliating herself.

She'd even played the "my aunt's the minister" card which had gotten nothing more than a roll of the eyes from one guard and a condescending snicker, at her pathetic play at nepotism, from the other.

Finally giving it up for a lost cause, she stomped her foot irately on the second guard's foot with a growl of frustration and scurried away amidst jeers and laughter of approval from the equally frustrated press corp.

She was beyond irritated and hastily approaching murderously desperate when she bullied her way into her Aunt's outer office and demanded to see the minister immediately.

Alerted by the commotion, her niece had already caused downstairs in the lobby, her aunt had been expecting her as evidenced by her voice coming over the intercom with a sugary sweet, condescending tone that only served to raise her hackles further.

"Do come in, Susan, before you make an even greater fool of yourself- if that's even possible?"

With an indignant huff, Susan tramped into her aunt's office and without preamble accused...

"How could you?"

"How could I what, dear?" her aunt goaded with an innocent expression that Susan knew was just veiled smugness.

"How could you lie to me?"

Amelia Bones cocked an inquisitive eyebrow at that asking further, "Exactly how have I supposedly lied to you, Su-san." she drawled her name in a sort of warning fashion that immediately had Susan on her guard, knowing that her aunt would not tolerate much more of her behavior, but she was still too angry to care.

"You said that Harry Potter died, that his remains were incinerated and his ashes spread." she spat back accusingly.

Amelia pulled a face of indignation at that. "And that's exactly what happened, Susan. Exactly!" Amelia returned icily with dread certainty.

Susan hadn't exactly knew what she had expected, but it certainly wasn't that and she instantly deflated, slumping into one of the chairs in front of her aunt's desk.

"B-But the ministry said he's alive? That he.. the Unspeakbles faked... his ..death...Oh?" The light of sudden understanding lit up her features.

"It's just a trick to draw out Voldemort." She sighed disappointedly, her eyes growing suspiciously moist.

Her aunt just shot her an sympathetic look, but neither confirmed nor denied her suspicions.

Grief and regret had turned to hope, then to anger and now back to regret. Susan cursed herself for daring to hope. It was like all of her dreams coming true only to wake and find out they were just that-dreams.

Amelia wanted to gather her niece up into her arms and tell her everything, but it was still too early.

Harry had decided to come out, so to speak, only on his terms and at his chosen time.

In two days the entirety of Wizarding Europe would either be celebrating as never before or grieving again. She chose to believe the former, but nothing was certain.

Voldemort was mortal; his horcruxes destroyed, but for all of that he was a formidable wizard and he would not gone down easily, if at all.

Amelia came around her desk and wrapped a supportive arm around her niece's trembling shoulders, pressing a sorely needed handkerchief into her hands.

"I'm sorry child. I wish..." she left off regretfully. "I wish I knew what to say or do to ease this burden and take away your pain. All I can really say is have faith, dear."

Susan shook her head in denial as she wiped at her eyes with the handkerchief.

Amelia sighed, patting the distraught girl's back reassuringly. Two days seemed an awfully long way off just now.

Voldemort stared at the Prophet story with a look of utter disdain whilst the Death Eater that delivered the newspaper trembled expectantly.

He wished he could kill the fool, but there were so few left that he could ill afford lowering their waning numbers yet more.

He'd already crucio'd the dog liberally, but even that yielded no satisfaction.

Potter-Lives? Preposterous! He glowered down at the headline. It was a childish trap to draw him out. He knew that Amelia Bones, for all her contempt, did not consider him a fool, but a worthy and dangerous adversary.

Begrudgingly, he considered her and the Unspeakables the same- a dangerous adversary.

For that alone he couldn't let this slide as so many top ranking officials would be in one place and at the same time.

It was the sort of chance he'd waited patiently for; the chance to destroy the ministry and establish his new regime all in one fell swoop.

Amelia Bones knows that I know it's a trap. Is she intentionally challenging me by this insult to my intelligence?

On the other side of the coin...

"Could Potter still be alive, masquerading as this..Wraith, who has so vexed my plans?

It seemed impossible, but this was Potter, after all.

When had the impossible not aligned itself with Potter? But no... he was dead.

He knew for a fact he was dead as he'd felt the connection between them sever at the point of Potter's death. He'd felt the gut wrenching drain of yet another horcrux being destroyed, weakening him more than he cared to ever divulge.

He knew that both Bones and Wraith were goading him, rubbing his face in his recent loses by the absurdity of having an awards ceremony in the first place, let alone playing the Potter card.

With a disgusted growl he tore the newspaper to shred and order his quivering lackey to summon the remainder of his troops.

Bones and company were inviting him. It would be rude to ignore so gracious an invitation.

"If you wanted pandemonium, you certainly got it, kid." Cam chided, slapping his shoulder good naturedly, referring to the chaos in the minister lobby generated by his announcement.

"Pandemonium? This is nothing. Wait until you get a load of the fallout from the "Awards Ceremony" now that's gonna be a show stopper." Raven threw in his opinion.

"Alright you lot, enough of the banter and let's go over the plan." Dragon ordered, silencing the room.

"What do you think he's gonna throw at us, Harry." Griffon asked, not bothering to use his code name as it was a mute point now. Even so, it got an ironic raise of the eyebrow from his young protégé.

"Not that I'm complaining mine, but it's a bit premature to resurrect the whole Harry Potter hysteria, isn't it? I give myself a less than fifty-fifty chance of surviving the night. Madam Bones will probably be awarding my medal posthumously."

"That's enough of that kind of talk, kid." Griffon piped in irritated by his attitude.

Harry pulled an incredulous face at that. "Maybe, but I don't have a clue what "the power he knows not" is ?" he drew quotation marks in the air referring to the prophecy regarding he and Voldemort. "For all I know it could be my prowess at cards,.. er.. which reminds me.. you still owe me twenty galleons from last week's poker game, Dozer."

"How about I pay you after the awards ceremony?" Dozer offered with a smirk, referencing his friend's lament of probably not surviving.

(Field operational meetings always started the same way with some good natured banter to defuse the stress and usually team leaders allowed operatives the chance to blow off some steam as it was good for the morale and more often than not their spit balling usually came up with some good ideas.)

The rest of the room snorted a laugh at that.

"welcher" Harry grumbled.

After the laughter subsided, Griffon pressed, "Back on track- what's he gonna hit us with?"

"Everything" Wraith ventured which at first cast a pall over the room until he added with a chuckle at irony of what this meant. "Which is about a dozen low ranking Death Eaters, give or take a few, a handful of giants and maybe a few odd dementors and a spare vampire or two."

"What, that's it?" Dozer snorted incredulously. "That's nothing. We could take that lot all on our lonesome."

"Don't forget about big baddie himself." Dragon reminded.

"Ah, go on, the kid'll take him easy."Chameleon snorted dismissively at that to which Harry rolled his eyes at his friend's enthusiasm.

"The giants could be a problem?" Griffon conjectured.

"Dozer and Stalker could take out one, maybe even all of them if they're quick about it." Wraith suggested.

"And just how are we supposed to do that?" Stalker returned skeptically sarcastic.

"Simple, use your animagus claws and fangs to sever their Achilles' tendons then Dozer can just knock em over with a good head of steam. Two thousand pounds of bull can move a giant easy. Once their down they ain't getting back up. They might flail about a bit but that's about it." Harry explained with a shrug of indifference as if it were just that simple.

The rest of the room stared at him for several minutes before he finally asked.. "What?"

Dragon shook his head to clear the cob webs, replying: "That's just stupid enough to actually work."

The room began laughing and Dozer socked his young friend in the arm chuckling, "What a brilliant tactician you are- you Git".

"Has every one checked their wands and armor?" Dragon reminded. All Unspeables wore dragon hide vests under their battle robes which were also charmed resistant to curses and could withstand lesser powered hexes and jinxes on their own. The dragon hide could repel everything short of a killing curse. Some even had the rarely obtainable Ukranian Iron Belly hide which could supposedly stop even a killing curse a time or two, but no one was willing to test the validity of that selling point.

"I want full battle gear including survival packs fully stocked with healing potions and pepper ups. I want this thing done right and proper, once and for all." Dragon instructed.

They were purposely leaving themselves open to attack to draw Voldemort out in an all or nothing gamble. They along with the rest of the ministry wanted this thing over and Voldemort- dead.

Clapping his hands together, Dragon got down to business. "Alright, here's what we're gonna do. Raven, Cam, Dozer and Stalker...I want you three on reconnaissance outside the ministry. Ghost team will likewise monitor the interior along with Shadow Team as Ghost team is currently down a field operative, however, Night Wisp will be monitoring the magical sensors we're placing strategically around the Ministry, Gringotts and Diagon Alley. Gringotts is onboard with an entire Goblin Battalion ready to engage at a moment's notice. They will primarily defend Diagon Alley and Gringotts proper. It's possible that Voldemort will play for creating widescreen destruction in Diagon Alley, knowing as he will that the Ministerial Building will be defended, thinking the Alley will be easy pickings. I almost wish he'd give that a try as those Goblins are damn cruel when they get in a battle rage."

The room jeered at the prospect.

Dragon continued... "We still maintain he'll make a play for taking the Ministry as it's just too juicy a target to let slip. If he goes for the sweep of the Ministry and I think we can all agree that we'd appreciate it?"

He paused again and many operatives snorted a laugh at that.

"As I said, if he breaches the Ministry proper, neither reconnaissance team is to engage until Voldie-turd has breached the interior of the building. Remember- you've got a ten second window to breach the interior of the building before the wards go up. If you're not inside by then you won't be until the dust settles. Ten seconds from the moment Volde-jerk's arse clears the door -no more"

Everyone nodded at that, repeating as one-"Ten seconds".

"Ourselves..ahem,..." Dragon cleared his throat meaningfully which elicited feral grins from his subordinates,.. "and teams of aurors will be stationed around the hall outside the ballroom .." he paused nodding meaningfully to several operatives who nodded their understanding as he continued without missing a beat... "as a show of force, but the aurors will disengage, when things start to get dicey leaving us as lambs up for the proverbial slaughter after which Big Bad will think he's won. In his overconfidence he most likely will proceed to try and take out as many ministerial heads, including Minister Bones; who will undoubtedly be his primary target and has graciously offered herself as our bait."

Many chuckled and jeered at this knowingly.

"Once he takes the bait, hit em hard and fast. The Minister and by this I mean the real Minister Bones.." he paused and several men chuckled and jeered at Wraith's expense.

"Minister Bones has signed an affidavit allowing us the use of Unforgivables for the evening of the Ball."

"Damn nice of her."

"Always liked Madam Bones."

"Nice figure" Stalker added with a smirk, earning himself a glare from Dragon for his cheek and jeers from his teammates.

"Milf magnet" came from Cam.

"I thought your animagus was a panther, not a cougar?" from Raven.

"Some sort of mommy fixation, I'd wager?" Griffon added with a wink, adding.. "Probably into diapers and powder and..."

"Here now!" Stalker interrupted outraged by the insinuation.

The room burst into laughter at that. Except Dragon who was still eyeing Stalker suspiciously, not liking his interest in the object of Dragon's interest.

They were discrete to the point of paranoia, but for all that she was still his girlfriend. Should this thing end tomorrow night, they could and would take things to the next level.

"All right, all right you lot.. let's keep the ladies out of it, my apologies to our female contingent for the attitudes of a few."

The few looked anything but contrite at this.

"Any question?" he asked, intending to wrap things up her before the final briefing scheduled for tomorrow afternoon.

"Yeah, any suggestions on how to take out Voldemort?" Harry asked worriedly.

"Rap him over the bean a couple of dozen times with a cricket bat." one offered in the back.

"Curse him with an arse clamping hex and then pump him full of a couple of thousand laxatives and let nature take its course." another put in hopefully, eliciting many winces and snorts of amusement along with nods of appreciation for originality.

"Give him a mirror that ought to do it!" the room erupted in laughter at that.

"Hit him with a castration hex and then a warming charm." The room went deadly quiet at Cho Chang's offering, causing most of the male contingent to immediately sober and cross their legs warily. The female contingent laughed and jeered after at the suggestion, or maybe it was the reaction of their male counterparts?

Cho was understandably prejudiced.

Griffon was wiping away tears of laughter when he haltingly fought down another bout of side splitting laughter to suggest..." Let's not k-kill him at all."



He fanned his hands begging the room's indulgence while he explained. "L-Let's curse off the buggers l-legs and arms and plant his arse on a giant s-spring inside one of those "Jack in the box" toys my kids love to play with."

Shocked stares of some greeted his suggestion whilst his teammates began to roll around in their seats laughing fit to bust when Griffon finished explaining that...

"We could put a coin slot on the b-box by the mu-music crank. Voldie could pop out and threaten impotently for a sickle a turn-Ha!"

Even Dragon couldn't help himself at that mental image. He was bent over and wheezing as he tried to catch his breath between guffaws.

"Since we can use Unforgivables; let's put him under an imperious and make him sing nursery rhymes instead?" one managed to squeak out sending the room into chaos.

Everyone had just started to calm down a tad when another suggested: "I say we bronze the arse and make a new magical fountain out of him to grace the Ministry Lobby. Something tasteful like... one of those winged cherubs that spouts water from their pee-pee. Har-Har-Har!"

It was several minutes before a semblance of control returned and Dragon shushed his very confident, but not otherwise helpful, Unspeakables quiet.

He shot Wraith an apologetic look. "Sorry, Harry, but I think only you can answer your own question in this case. You're an exceptional wizard, but what exactly can you do that Voldemort can't or at least doesn't know about?"

He never got a chance to answer, not that he even had one, before his fellows started chiming in.

"He plays a mean game of gob stones." one offered.

"A veritable cardsharp when it comes to poker."

"A cheat more like." Dozer grumbled under his breath.

"He can touch the tip of his tongue to his nose."


"It's true, I've saw him do it one time when he had a bit of dessert on it."

Several snorted at that, whilst Harry grumbled something unkind under his breath.

The rest of his comrades continued unabated...

"He's a top notch flyer."

"Maybe he could challenge him to a race and bump the bugger into the side of a building or something?"

"He's double jointed."

"That should make him right popular with the birds." Stalker threw in with a churlish grin and a suggestive waggle of his eyebrows.

A couple of female operatives giggled at that. One bold one added her preference that, "I like a man who's flexible."

"Females too, I heard." another added followed by a round of snickers.

"I had bit too much one night, so there." she defended herself.

"I'm not even touching that one." a fellow shot back and a wave of bawdy laughter and jeers echoed throughout the briefing room.

"Why do I even bother?" Wraith sighed and left the room thinking himself unnoticed during a fresh round of continued barbs.

Dragon watched him go, mumbling disappointedly to himself, without trying to stop him. What was there to say? He had no more clue than the rest of the men and women under his command. His fellow Unspeakables knew what he was up against and as much as they joked about it to try and raise his flagging spirits and reassure him; none of them would readily take his place. It was just that daunting a task-Kill Voldemort.

It had been tried, many times before in self defense, but no one in their right mind actually sought out such a duel. There were duels and there were suicide attempts and fighting Voldemort was generally considered just that-Suicide.

Voldemort was just that powerful and he knew it which means he was just that much more dangerous as he was so confident in his abilities that he rarely if ever made a mistake as he fought with not only an extreme ferocity, but with a level head. He was cool and calculating under fire; a deadly combination.

Wraith, Harry Potter- was not. He was powerful- very powerful. Whether he was in Voldemort's league though? He fought passionately and had an uncanny ability to turn certain defeat to a victory; in other words he was lucky. He had matured greatly since the days of school when he let his temper too often get the better of him. He had made gains to be sure and was well experienced, but for all that he was nowhere near Volemort's league in most respects. And luck only got you so far and then usually–it ran out.

Blue eyes stared long and hard into the surface of the pond. At times he wished he could see his own green eyes staring back at him once more. Even the tell tale 'lightning bolt' scar was a vast improvement over the scars that now riddled his face, courtesy of Voldemort and his minions.

The irony that he was scarred again at Voldemort's behest was not lost on him. It was something which he planned to return in kind. Whether he rose from the ashes or fell under wand fire at least one thing he promised himself: he would give Voldemort scars to remember him by.

Not that the snake faced bastard ever looked in the mirror, but still, it was the thought that count. Voldemort would know they were there and the thought that he wasn't all powerful would gnaw at him, megalomaniac that he was.

Eventually Wraith brushed his finger through the water obscuring his reflection. The healers claimed they could remove most of the scars, but what difference did it make? It wasn't him and besides it wasn't like he was handsome to begin with.

He felt like an island; alone and isolated in a world that didn't really know he even existed until discovered by some turn of fate.

He wondered about many things, even whether other soldiers and such pondered their own mortality on the eve of battle.

He wasn't so much feeling sorry for himself as he was feeling disconnected- alone.

At what point had the killing become a necessity, easier even? Had it always been so only he was too thick and, or idealistic to realize it at the time?

He knew he could kill Voldemort, or at least he wanted to-badly. There we others whom the thought of killing did not repulse him as it might once have had. Voldemort was the opposite extreme in that he would relish the opportunity if it came.

Killing him would be worth a thousand such "Order of Merlin" awards. It would be something he would remember and appreciate the rest of his days. It might not help his family or the countless victims of the dark lord rest easier, but the living would surely appreciate his absence from their lives.

Odd that he hadn't thought of his family in so long? It wasn't that he was too busy to do so, but more an intentional disassociation. He'd be lying if he contemplated having done so to keep his mind free and unfettered to concentrate on the task at hand. He had done so more out of fear.

Somewhere he had heard it said once that those that committed suicide were doomed in death. That thought had stayed with him and prayed on his mind for many long fear filled nights after his attempt.

Would he be denied rejoining them should he die for true? Would he be forgiven and allowed to enter paradise only to be faced with seeing the shame they felt for him mirrored in their eyes over what he'd done and what he'd become as a result?

Wouldn't that be worse than perdition's flames?

So many questions, worries,.. tasks left undone... all save one or three.

He could at least go to his destiny with few such obstacles removed from society.

It was like a sliver under the skin of your finger. It didn't really obstruct your daily activities, more of a hindrance or painful reminder; a nuisance until removed and cast away- forgotten in a trice.

Albus Dumbledore, among others was the sliver beneath his skin begging to be extracted.

The Unspeakables had generously put off dealing with Albus Dumbledore purely for selfish reasons. They knew that if by some miracle he survived captivity at the Dark Lord's hands, he would want to deal with Dumbledore himself, personally.

He'd waited until the very eve of either what was to be his triumph or his demise so that if it proved to be the latter he would at least have Dumbledore's comeuppance to comfort him before he died.

Pulling himself from his dark and morbid ponderings he set about taking care of those little things that could make one's passing that much more easy; if there really was such a thing?

He walked with purpose back to the Bones mansion and let himself in the kitchen door. He was heading for the apparition point at the end of the hall just past the family room when a gasp caught his attention.

"There you are,.. but why aren't you dressed?" Susan's relief turned to minor reproof.

She turned her back to him and asked.. "Could you?" referring to her half raised zipper.

He rolled his eyes at her veiled attempt to tease as he knew that any witch worth her salt could take care of such with just a simple tap of her wand and a first year levitation charm.

Certainly a charms mistress could.

The fact that she was wearing what was arguably the most stunning evening gown he'd ever beheld along with the faint pink that tinged her skin at his mere touch was not lost on him.

His own hands trembled slightly as he slowly pulled her zipper up, relishing the way it molded the bodice of her dress to her beautiful curves.

Once done his hands drifted to her shoulders and held her gently for a moment as he sighed appreciatively over her shoulder into the mirror she was standing in front of.

"You look stunning, Susan." he complemented simply.

Susan gasped slightly, her soft blue eyes rising up to meet his reflected ones. "T-Thank you." she stammered, herself trembling slightly beneath his touch, her cheeks pinking up.

He wanted to tell her who and what he was, but decided it really didn't matter just now as it would most likely ruin her even and what would it matter in the greater scheme if he fell in battle tonight.

"You better hurry up and put on your dress uniform or you'll be late for your own award's celebration." She patted his hand reassuringly, silently intimating that she would wait for him.

"I have some things I need to take care of first. Why don't you go with your aunt and I'll catch up later."

"But..." she began disappointedly, but he cut her off by placing a small chaste kiss to the side of her cheek, offering a parting... "You do look so incredible..."

Susan turned around with an excited gasp but he was already gone.

Harry walked the bowels of the ministry where those in disfavor, with no possibility of advancement, went about their menial tasks in relative anonymity.

He paused before one such dilapidated office front. The paint was faded and chipped and the glass of the door was so grimy that it hardly needed to be frosted for privacy sake as the look of it alone would cause others to remember they had more pressing concerns elsewhere.

The name on the door however stood out in blood, important looking block print, proudly proclaiming the office's resident with the title of the office itself so small beneath to be almost indiscernible.

My how the mighty have fallen? What was a career launching start for one was a place of neglect and shame for another.

The door proclaimed: Dolores Umbridge

Cauldron weight and thickness regulation

With a smirk of satisfaction, Wraith toed the door open, not trusting to try the filthy handle lest he contaminate himself with not only grime but with the stain of bigotry and a false perception of self importance.

The air was fairly rife with it.

By contrast to the dim hallway and dejected door front of the office before him, (barely a closet for some), the inside was pink from floor to ceiling with pictures and plates of kittens of all sizes and descriptions that were cavorting with balls of string, rubber mice, pawing at goldfish bowls and the like.

It was a good thing he'd thought to take an anti-nausea potion before coming lest he sick up at the sight. It was decorated like some bizarre nursery school for ballerina and princess wannabes.

Worse yet was the pink frilly nightmare that was planted behind a desk heavily laden with what appeared to be cauldron reports; enough to occupy a lifetime and then some.

Her hair was pulled down and brushed to the sides from the middle which only added to draw attention to her wide face and flat head perched atop her squat frame. Like some hideous toad that was too lazy to hunt, she was sticking out her tongue between her teeth as if she were waiting for a fly to land of its own accord.

She puffed up importantly at seeing a potential distraction, but a sneer marred her face when she took in his muggle clothes.

"Muggle relations is two floor up." she snapped in dismissal.

Wraith flashed his badge, immediately garnering the hideous woman's attention as she perked up in instant recognition.

"So my superiors have finally succumbed to the obvious and wish to reemploy my many valuable talents." she assumed, grinning predatorily. "I assume I'm needed for some very important undercover work that, such that an Unspeakble officer has been sent to beg my services?"

She wore that same smug, self deluded air of importance that her relegation to the bowels of obscure and relative meaningless duty had failed to flush out of her.

"Indeed, we could think of no better candidate for so vital a task." Wraith cajoled in earnest. "Truly the future welfare of wizarding world hinges upon your successful completion of so needful an undertaking." he drawled that last meaningfully, enjoying the way her eyes took on a lascivious and calculating gleam thinking to parlay the Ministry's need into a coup for herself.

He wiped out several pages of parchment which he presented to her for her perusal.

Umbridge immediately scanned the sheets before her, brushing her reports aside, already plotting who she could saddle with what she now believed her previous position.

Excitement turned immediately to confusion as she looked up from the many pages held within her greedy hands.

"I don't understand,.. there's nothing written here?"

"That's because you haven't wrote it yet." Harry pounced in hope filled revenge as he brought his holly and phoenix feather wand to bear and leveled it between her startled eyes as he pulled a "blood quill" from his pocket and placed it on the desk before her.

Dolores' eyes bulged in recognition. "No,.. get out, how dare you..!" she managed to recover enough to try and bluster her way out of her impending doom.

"How dare I?" Harry questioned in a comical air. "How dare you take advantage of school children? It was your sacred duty to educate and protect innocent children, but instead you used your authority to abuse and bully, scarring many of them for life." He drew particular attention the word scarring, and was intrigued to see that she caught the reference and it rattled her accordingly.

"How could you...who're you..?' she gasped fearfully.

He held up the back of his unblemished hand and answered. "Were I still within the confines of my, now destroyed, body... the term: "I must not tell lies" would be engraved into the flesh of my then fifteen year old hand.

Umbridge eyes nearly popped from her head and she looked as if she would sick up as she still pleaded in denial that..."No..no one knows.. it's not possible... he's dead...?"

Harry smirked cruelly at that enjoying the way she suddenly lost her voice. By the acrid smell assaulting his nose, he could tell that was not all she'd lost as she suddenly realized just who was standing before her.

Only one person knew what she'd done to Potter and that was Potter. Just like there was only one person who commanded a Holly and Phoenix feather wand like the one pointed between her now tear filled eyes.

The wand flicked to the parchment that was clutched tightly in her shaking hands.

"You have lines to write." he demanded coolly.

"W-What shall I w-write, t-then..?" Dolores asked in a tremulous voice as her hand struggled to pick up the blood quill, dropping it several times in apprehension.

He kindly cast a sticking charm so that she could maintain her grip on the quill though she didn't appear to appreciate the gesture, no more so than what he told her to write.

"How many t-tmies?" she tearfully asked, resolved to her punishment.

He borrowed a leaf from her page and informed her. "Until the message sinks in." He smirked appreciatively at the way she shuddered in recollection of what she'd once told him to do.

Too make sure she did just that he hit her with a compulsion charm that was just short of an imperious in strength.

With a satisfied nod that justice would eventually be served he left her to her intense work.

They would find her, some many days later, by accident as no one would intentionally go looking for Dolores Umbridge out of work interest, let alone concern for her well being.

The walls of her office would be covered with writings in her own blood, she a lifeless husk sprawled over her desk with the words: 'I must not eat flies' craved, down to the bone, in the back of her hand.

He loved his job.

Merlin, how he hoped he'd survive the night so that he could continue to serve the public's welfare for the betterment of society.

A half hour later he was sitting serenely, enjoying a cup of tea whilst he waited to catch up on old times.

It had been too long since he'd paid a visit to his dear relatives, far too long for such close relations.

He knew well enough how his peers visited on his behalf and would undoubtedly continue to do so the regardless of the evening's outcome.

They were good friends, much like the Weasley twins in that respect.

It was just going five in the evening and like clockwork his dear uncle's sedan pulled up the drive.

Aunt Petunia had taken to driving Vernon to and from work, transferring her dotting ways to her appreciative husband, now that her sweet Diddydums was locked away in prison on a host of undoubtedly trumped up charges. One of which, he was given to understand, was for child abuse and neglect . he couldn't imaging where his dear cousin could have learned such behavior given his stellar upbringing.

Ah well,.. he'd be out in ten years or so, give or take. Then he could return to being the constructive member of society that was the model of his parentage.

The door slamming and steps down the hall brought him from his wistful musings.

"I'll get started on dinner right away, Vernon dear. Why don't you make yourself comfortable in your chair and I'll bring you a nice martini to enjoy whist you enjoy your show."

"Fine idea pet, fine, but make it a double. Devilishly busy at the office today. Nearly worked myself to the bone."

Harry could hear the man fall into his easy chair with a loud "waumphh" and could swear he'd felt the floor shudder in protest between his feet.

"You over do, dear, you always have." Petunia scolded endearingly.

Harry snorted at that. For Vernon to work himself to the bone he'd need to work twenty-four/ seven, without food, for longer than it would take Dudley to get himself paroled.

Petunia bustled into the kitchen, pulling up short with a gasp of alarm as Harry tipped his cup in acknowledgement to the woman.

"Vernon!" she shrieked. "V-Vernon call the constable, there's an intruder!"

"What?!" Vernon bellowed from the other room. By the sound of the thundering hooves in the hallway, either a water buffalo or his uncle was stampeding his way.

Unfortunately, when the swinging door flew open, it was his wheezing and blustering, whale of an uncle standing there rather than the water buffalo.

He'd of rather the buffalo as they could at least offer the excuse of being a dumb animal.

"Now see here, you cur. Out, get out of my house!" Vernon threatened, pointing a meaty finger in his face, spittle flying from his jowls.

"My rifle pet, fetch my rifle!" He bellowed. "A few rounds in your backside will be a fitting reminder to not prey on decent folk you thieving swine."

Harry chuckled in spite of himself at that. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black?

"Dear Uncle, you wound me. Here I was thinking to pop in to catch up over a cuppa with my lovely relatives as long as I was in the neighborhood and this is how I'm treated?" he pleaded innocently, pasting his most sincere look on his face.

"Uncle, what're you on about? You're a nutter, you are? We're decent, normal folks, no relation to common thieves and thugs the likes of you." He blustered while his aunt whimpered her agreement from the hall as she struggled to pull her husband's rifle from the cupboard that once served as Harry's bedroom.

Harry smirked at that, suggesting. "I take it Dudders is an uncommon thief and thug then, much like his hard working father?"

Vernon puffed up angrily at that, his face gone puce in his outrage. "So that's it then? You're some scum that preyed on our good boy whilst he's wrongfully imprisoned. Think you can come here and try your luck with us, eh? The police will be here soon enough to finish with what's left of you. My rifle, pet?!" Vernon barked, pawing behind expectantly for her to pass his rifle to him.

With a yelp of surprise, he snatched the rifle in question from his wife's own trembling grasp. He pointed the gun barrel in Wraith's direction and without so much as a last warning he pulled the trigger.

An ominous silence filled the kitchen that was shattered only when Vernon swore and cocked the hammer back and pulled the trigger more violently as if willing the gun to fire on demand.

Wraith sighed and extended his grasped hand, proceeding to drop a handful of cartridges that bounced across the linoleum, rolling uselessly away.

"Wha.. but how..?" Vernon gaped in dread, his wife whimpering fearfully, clutching his shoulder in a death grip as she peered over his enormous bulk.

"I've spent many a long night locked within said cupboard. Many was the time my young hands contemplated using the gun on myself to rid myself of the horror that was existence in this prison of neglect and abuse.

At least Dudders knows why he's undoubtedly being abused by his fellow inmates. For me it was solely that I existed; a difficult concept for an adolescent to comprehend. It's out innocence you see? We convince ourselves that we must have done something wrong to warrant such punishment. It never occurs to us, until we are old enough to understand, that there are monsters in the world that prey upon children just because they can. To make they, themselves feel empowered or in control, or maybe, as in your case; they do it just because they like it."

That said he told the horrified pair a condensed version of his life from the moment he'd tried to end it to his sitting in their kitchen waiting to see them a last time.

"So you've turned out no better than your cowardly parents have you boy? Come to blame us for your lot, eh? Well goodbye and good riddance I say." Vernon spat disgusted, finding his waning courage.

Harry just smiled grimly, refusing to take the bait. He, instead, addressed himself to his cowering aunt, who he could just make out casting furtive glances his way beneath Vernon's sheltering obesity, that the man mistakenly correlated with the intimidation one gleaned from a muscular frame.

"Is that what you believe, dear aunt? We're my mother and father cowards?"

Petunia whimpered fretfully at that, unable to answer, she had least had the semblance of courage to shake her head in denial of that.

Harry nodded his acceptance of her belief. "You're fortunate Vernon."

"How's that boy?" the man blustered back thinking he had the upper hand just now.

"You're fortunate that aunt Petunia does not agree with the insult you stick to my parent's memory. Cowards do not sacrifice themselves to save their child."

"If they had seen how you came out they would have left you to it and saved themselves and good riddance I say." Vernon blustered, trembling in rage.

Harry smirked at that, though his eyes held no hint of mirth. "Perhaps." he agreed.

Petunia joked back a sob of disagreement at that which lightened his heart more than he cared to admit.

"I came here tonight to settle a score long past due- with interest." He held up a hand to forestall the coming outrage from Vernon's quarter.

"First I should like to tell you what it is you seemingly believe to be worthless?"

Harry proceeded to outline his family's financial holdings in brief but accurate detail.

At seeing his uncle's shocked to speechless demeanor, he proceeded to turn the knife. "All this I would have gladly shared had I been treated with a modicum of decency and respect. That much should come without any strings attached from one's own family. You would have wanted for nothing-ever.

"B-But Duddly he never.. surely you can see your way clear to...?" Vernon stammered in a pleading on his son's behalf.

"He is his father's son and be all accounts worse that the mold from which he was cast. He could have been, should have been a brother to me, but instead he beat me and forced away any who thought to befriend me. He constantly used me for his cruel jokes and as a scapegoat which you too readily accepted to place the blame upon for you villainous son's own misdeeds."

He made appoint of twisting around as if searching for something. "I see by the lack of Dudley's presence that the public does not share your own misconception of Dudley's innocence."

"Now see here?"Vernon began to argue, but was immediately cut off, literally so, by a silencing charm and a quick pertrificus for good measure.

"That's better" Wraith smiled predatorily.

His aunt immediately wailed despondently and tried to tug Vernon into action.

With a sarcastic sigh of weariness. Harry silenced her as well and banished her into the chair to his left before hitting her with a sticking charm to hold her in place.

"What am I to do with you?" he conjectured in resignation.

"Many, many long nights I've contemplated what I think a fitting punishment for the crimes you committed against me? I realized that I wouldn't be serving justice unless I included what you did to Dudley in that equation as well. Had you done a better job of it, he wouldn't be the villainous thug he is now and by proxy so many others may not have been victimized by the swine."

Harry drummed his fingers impatiently on the table top, relishing the way his aunt flinched each time he did so as he contemplated..."What to do? What to do...?"

"Hmm, I could let my friends visit frequently and inopportune times to make sure and reinforce that knowledge that magic is in fact-real and something you are sorely lacking in?"

Petunia whimpered dolefully at that.

"No, you're right,... far too easy and lacks any real finesse. Hmm, I could buy out Grunnings? It wouldn't even make so much as a scratch in my finances, petty little fly by night operation that it is." He enjoyed the way Vernon bristled angrily at this, actually able to tremble in his outrage despite his being petrified.

"I could have you sacked, Vernon."he threatened in consideration. "I could ruin your reputation and any chance of you finding another such viable position, though I'm sure your age and physical stature would damn you towards getting another such lucrative job, that,.. and any real qualifications that don't involve bullying and blustering your way through. If I were you I'd get used to asking: What size fries and drink did you want with that? Ha-Ha-Ha!" he chortled as Vernon looked as if he were going to sick up.

Once he gathered himself, he paused to enjoy the sickly pallor of his relations. Part of him considered leaving them as is to their own misguided fate. They were their own doom. The trouble was is that he couldn't chance they wouldn't squeak by as they always had by deceit and half way decent acting.

They could present themselves as the idyllic couple when they were wanting to, that is: if they had something to gain by it.

Hell, the sick part was that they actually believed they were the idyllic couple.

Hmm,.. the idyllic couple? he pondered. It has possibilities.

With a feral grin of sudden inspiration, he cast several charms in rapid succession over first his beloved aunt and then his troll of an uncle.

Satisfied with his wand work he canceled the silencing and immobilizing charms of previous. Leaving his aunt and uncle wide eyed and gapping as the charms he'd applied began to do their work.

"W-What did you do, boy?" his uncle stammered aghast, feeling that something was amiss, but he couldn't tell what.

"Improved your lot." Harry offered vaguely by way of an answer, before reiterating. "You've always fancied yourself the ideal couple; successful business man and father, doting wife and mother. A beautiful, well kept home and lawn. You've everything that bespeaks a happy, and normal existence."

"That's right, boy and content to remain so once you've left, this time for good!" his uncle both blustered and threatened in the same sentence.

Harry smiled reassuringly. "And so I shall." Harry rose with purpose, appreciating the way they both cringed back warily as if expecting an attack.

Such a waste that would be as they would both prove their own undoing. It wasn't so much a matter of if, but when.

Vernon received a bit of- oomph. He applied a very specific compulsion charm to his uncle. It was one that would drive him to unparallel heights in a never ending, unceasing endeavor to succeed. One that no matter how far he could possible rise would never see him satisfied with his lot. He would truly work himself to the bone.

His aunt: poor horse faced, stick figured Petunia would enjoy the attributes that she'd always coveted in her sister, which led to her eternal hatred of her once beloved sibling.

He'd applied a time sensitive glamour charm to his aunt that would gradually improve her supposed physical attributes, subtly ,.. so as not to be readily noticeable over time. Her figure would fill out,.. rounding in all the right places. Her hair would slowly grow in lustrous, long and red. Her face would alter accordingly until she would become a beauty without rival.

They would be the very picture of a perfect couple; a successful business man and his ravishing, albeit devoted wife.

He wondered how long it would be and which would arrive at the conclusion first that they deserved better than the other.

Petunia, if she played her cards right could get any man. She could easily find someone younger and more wealthy than Vernon. Someone with all they had and more, only with a physique to match her own. Shallow people, by that he loosely applied the term 'people' to his aunt and uncle, were indelibly dissatisfied. They always wanted more than what they had.

Vernon, likewise, could land most any none discerning woman who valued success, ie.. money, over looks and intelligence. With his already heightened sense of self worth he would undoubtedly think himself entitled to even more than the perfect wife.

Harry had tied their subsequent enhancement charm to their idyllic, normal home. Once either left the other and subsequently their once shared home, the charms would fade until they were who they were originally meant to be. Horse faced and stick-like vs. an arrogant and overvalued whale.

He could not help but wonder if they would come to appreciate or curse their idyllic existence?

It was nearly time for the festivities to begin as he ghosted through Hogwarts. He was in no hurry, confident that the object of his interest would be unintentionally and fashionably late.

If it was one thing Dumbledore's ego craved it was making an entrance. Had he his way then this would be his night. Hell, if Dumbledore had his way than every night would be his night.

The man craved being the center of attention.

He paused in front of the stone gargoyle guarding the stair to the headmaster's office. It was just one more needless ego boost. Really, why did the headmaster require a sentinel in a school full of children who could barely hold a wand their first three years and were nowhere near his level of mastery at seventh?

The gargoyle was no more than a figure head, a symbol of prestige.

Wraith smirked at the gargoyle that raised a stony eyebrow in concern at the way he was being dissected.

Deciding at length that he didn't like what the man's smirk portended, he abandoned his post in favor of not ending up fortifying the pebbled walkway to Hogsmeade.

Not bothering to knock he let himself in and waited silently whilst the object of his interest busied himself in his private chamber with readying himself for attending the Ministerial Ball.

From what Wraith could glean, from the partially opened door, the way the headmaster primped and preened you'd think he was the guest of honor.

It was long minutes before Dumbledore was finally satisfied with the tilt of his moon and star hat and turned from his mirror with a last appreciative smile at his visage.

Aging blue eyes twinkling expectantly as he walked into his office only to find another pair of expectant blue eyes waiting for him.

His own smile disappeared and he warily sat down behind his desk, never taking his eyes from the man in front of him.

"W-What do you want?" he asked, struggling to appear calm though a slight tremor in his voice betrayed him.

"My reward." Wraith answered simply.

"Then hadn't you better be on your way to the ministry? I do believe the party's already begun."

"Indeed it has." Wraith answered with dread certainty. "It's a good thing your dressed for the occasion as you'll be needing to look your best for your day in court, much good as it will do you?" he chided facetiously.

Dumbeldore's expression turned puzzled. "I'm not sure I follow?"

Wraith smiled that same cool smirk of knowing that he'd fixed his former sentinel with outside.

Dumbledore found himself no more at ease than his guardian had previously under that calculating grin.

Wraith tossed a newspaper on Dumbledore's desk... it was tomorrow's edition.

The lead article read in bold letters that no one could miss: Dumbledore Arrested for Treason!

"What madness is this?" The old goat scoffed indignantly.

Wraith smirked again. "I assure you, whilst it is tomorrow's edition it is by no means a prediction other than that it will warrant first page as the lead story. I'm guessing it will take a back seat to tonight's proceedings, perhaps a contributing or filler story for pages six or seven, but it will still catch the reader's interest for all that."

The old man's eye began to twitch as he struggled mightily to hold his building rage in check whilst Wraith turned the knife.

"Your days of garnishing front page news are long since past. Did you really think you would get away with cursing me in the back and leaving me to Voldemort's tender mercies would go unnoticed? The Unspeakables have spent the past months building the case against you and I can assure you won't slip away from legal obligation playing your benevolent grandfather role nor by falling back on the ever popular "For the greater good" excuse, not when all you've been up to comes to light. The goblins have scrutinized you financial records. They have black and white proof of your having usurped magical guardianship for the orphan Harry Potter, against the express wishes and provisions of his parent's iron clad will. Likewise, they've followed the paper trail and have rock solid proof of your having plundered said orphan's inheritance to fund your little support group as well as your expensive, albeit garish, taste in clothes and other excesses." He cast his arms wide across the breadth of the old man's office, drawing attention to his many, highly expensive, trinkets and aged tomes.

"You will be charged with treason for your having attacked an officer of the ministry, thereby leaving him at the mercy of the very terrorist he was defending the public, including you own ungrateful arse, against. Add to that fraud, grand theft and if I have my way; offensive facial hair!"

The facial tic had grown to outlandish proportions as Dumbledore's trade mark benevolent smile had long since fled in favor of the nervous eyes of a felon seeking escape.

Dumbledore tensed, his own fingers inching toward his wand as Wraith calmly displayed his wand-less hands and extracted a folded paper from the breast pocket of his jacket.

"What's that?" he spat worriedly as Wraith pushed the folded parchment across the old man's desk.

"A warrant for your arrest." Wraith answered smugly. "I intend to take you in tonight in front of the entire Ministerial assembly whereby you will humiliated and degraded to the fullest measure under the intense scrutiny of most of Europe's major press corp. which by this time tomorrow will be baying for your blood."

"H-Harry..." the old man cleared his throat and tried to proceed with feigned assuredness... "Harry, couldn't we settle our differences more amicably, albeit privately?" he nearly begged in his most grandfatherly tone.

Harry nodded, reassuring the old man before he pulled the rug out from beneath him. "Like we did in this very office when we offered you the chance to retire quietly with your dignity, such that it is, intact?"

The hopeful smile fell from Dumbledore's face but quickly returned when Harry suggested. "I believe I have a solution that will allow you to avoid an unpleasant and fruitless legal battle that will at the very least leave you both penniless and publicly vilified or kissed by a dementor at the worst and most likely outcome?"

"I'll do anything,.. please..?" the old man begged clinging to the lifeline he had yet to name as a possible solution to Dumbledore's dilemma.

"Very well, option B it is." Harry agreed. He walked to Dumbledore's heightened office window and opened the latch, swinging the stained glass open and beckoning. "You may take the option I once did at seeing naught, but pain and despair as my present and future whereas you will be merely trying to avoid the coming disgrace to salvage your own vanity."

Dumbledore's face paled dramatically. "But Harry,.. surely we can... ?"

"Choose?" he demanded cutting the old man off in mid plea.

With a last fond look at the office he so enjoyed for so long.. the many comforts, the prestige... with a broken countenance, Dumbledore walked tremulously to the waiting window.. and faltered... his courage failing him.

"I..I can't... C-Couldn't we...?"

Upon a time he would have shown mercy and pitied the old man who had once held such a place of esteem within his heart, but that time was passed. Any thoughts of kindness and compassion were dashed when the stunning spell hit him in the back leaving him to certain torture and eventual death at Voldemort's hands.

"No" Wraith stoically denied the old man's plea and helped him find the courage to do what was right, not what was easy.

He left the newspaper on the old manipulator's desk. It would serve as more potent and understandable a suicide note that any last minute despondent scratching could.

With no less a troubled heart than when he came, he left Hogwarts without a backward glance for what was. Such happy memories from another life here were few and far between. Despite all he'd faced and suffered as an Unspeakable, he could at least comfort himself in the knowledge that he had accomplished some small measure of securing the public safety by destroying the enemies of peace and freedom.

Dumbledore deserved to be humiliated and ultimately destroyed for the part he played in ruining so many lives. He could forgive the old man for so many things but stabbing him in the back was not one of them.

His hiring of Snape alone warranted the veil for subsequent neglect and malfeasance for which the student population suffered scorn and ridicule. Dreams were crushed. Parents and students lives snuffed out as Snape had the inside track on muggle student's homes and vulnerabilities. How many lives had Snape personally destroyed under his guise of Dumbledore's spy when he was really a double agent for the dark? How many such could be laid at the old man's feet for his extreme foolishness in trusting a man that so many clearly didn't and for good reason?

He would not mourn Dumbledore nor would he regret being the final instrument of facilitating his demise.

He was nothing more than a loose end to see to before he faced his own mortality with a freeing sense of resolution.

He had complete faith in that McGonagal would perform brilliantly in Dumbledore's stead. She would see to making this the kind of supportive and healthy environment that would develop talent and help young minds flourish. She would herald in a new and better age of scholastic achievement where grades, quidditch and relationships would be the only concerns to occupy young minds.

Hogwarts would now become the kind of place he once thought it was before he came and found out it was nothing more than a grassy field to fatten the sacrificial lamb.

Wraith arrived at the Ministerial awards ceremony and Ball in trainers, a pair of jeans and a dark green polo shirt.

No dress uniform as he'd been reminded to wear innumerable times.

No dragon hide armor as had been insisted upon for all Unspeakables in attendance, but especially so for him.

Madam Bones shot him a reproving look and Dragon actually found the time to sidle up and growl menacingly his displeasure.

As far as he was concerned there was more than enough formal wear, monkey suits and evening gowns crammed into one room already, but that wasn't the reason he was dressed as he was.

Nor was it a snub of authority or a show of protest toward receiving the nation's highest magical citation.

There was no politically motivated agenda for his lack of proper decorum. He simply was comfortable in what he was wearing and if he was going to be fighting for his life he was going to do so unhindered by dress garb and bulky armor.

If he was going to duke it out with the big bad then one thing was for sure; he was going to have to move fast to avoid a lot of cruciatus and killing curses.

One did not dodge curses well in dress robes and dragon hide wouldn't stop killing curses.

If he was going to survive the night then it would be on his terms. If not, then he hoped that he would be able to die on his terms.

One rarely if ever had the choice for either where Voldemort was concerned.

So many lovely ladies graced the dance floor on the arm of gallant gentlemen. He wished he could enjoy the evening, but he was just wound too tight for that simple pleasure.

He was just availing himself of a short single malt from the bar when a hand clamped on his arm and spun him around.

"None of that, good sir. A dance if you please. " a female voice demanded.

She wore a flattering blue velvet strapless gown that hugged her now more mature curves. She even showed more cleavage than he would have thought she would have ever been comfortable with, but time and people change, often for the better as evidenced by the soft curls that fell past her barred shoulders, drawing attention to her creamy skin.

Hermione had grown from a budding beauty to the real deal as they say.

Wraith smirked and gathered Hermione into his arms and near crushed her to his chest, giving himself an ample view of her now more exposed breasts..

"Whoa down there big boy. I'm not that kind of girl." His partner admonished pressing away until they were a more modest distant apart.

"What, and miss this opportunity to satisfy a childhood fantasy?" he complained disappointedly.

"I thought you said she was like a sister to you?" his partner asked in surprise.

"She was." he admitted.

Hermione pulled a face at that. "Well, if that isn't just a bit disturbing-pervert."

Wraith shrugged helplessly mid waltz to plead his case. "Give a guy a break it's not like I've ever even gone on a date. I must be Britain's ..?"

"Most eligible bachelor?" Hermione assumed with a smug expression that was so like her.

"I was gonna say oldest male virgin." he chaffed.

"Ewe!" Hermione's face scrunched up in disgust, before she ventured hopefully that... "If you're still a virgin after getting the 'Order of Merlin' than your seriously doing something wrong, kid."

Wraith rolled his eyes at that. "Oh, and I should trade my virtue over a cheap piece of tin from some starry eyed witch just out of Hogwarts?"

"What ever gets it done, kid."

"Uh, huh... Raven, right?" he guessed.

"What gave me away?"

"You're willingness to trade on anything as an excuse to whore yourself."

Hermione snickered at that. "All men have their vices, kid."

Wraith rolled his eyes again.

After a slight paused to let his eyes drift around the crowded dance floor he spotted the object of his search on the arm of what was presumably the Hungarian ambassador.

"Who's polyjuiced as Susan Bones?" he asked curiously.

"Cho Chang" Raven answered without bothering to use her code name. Hermione's eyes took on a devious sparkle as he chided.

"I think someone else is hoping to satisfy a teenage fantasy?"

"Your warped." Wraith griped, missing a half step, but hastily righting himself.

"Maybe..." his friend acknowledged.. "But talk about your opportunity to kill three birds with one stone?"

At seeing Wraiths baffled look he explained. "You could take care of your little virgin dilemma with the lovely Miss Chang in spirit whilst enjoying the ravishing Susan Bones. If that isn't a school boy fantasy or three all rolled into one than I don't know what is. Har-Har Har!"

The idiot doubled over in side splitting guffaws that both looked and sounded very un-lady like, much to the chagrin of their commanding officer who drifted by with a growl that sobered up Raven and his antics in a trice.

"Way to go, dip shite." Wraith scolded his still wheezing friend.

Their dance was just about to end when Raven straightened up enough to hurriedly venture. "Look kid,.. all joking aside...we both know the score tonight so why not ... well...you know? I'll cover for you and Cho, that is.. I'm sure Cho... wouldn't be necessarily against the idea as she's always had .. feelings for you and all...I'm sure she'd rather remember someone she cares for over..?" Hermione's eyes took a on a compassionate, almost pleading look of hope.

Wraith grimaced uncomfortably at the prospect, even though he knew his friend was being earnest and just trying to help the two in more ways than one.

It wasn't the first time it had been suggested that he and Cho would make a nice couple and he a good father, by the by.

It wasn't that they weren't drawn to each other on some level and not just in a physical sense.

There were far more pros than cons when considering the prospect, but the bottom line was... he felt something for Susan Bones. He always had despite everything that had happened.

It wasn't her fault that he had jumped. She had merely been the final straw that he was rapidly approaching on his own to begin with.

Cho was stunningly beautiful, but so was Susan. He was mesmerized by her strawberry blonde tresses; the way they caught the sun and the faint curls bounced with every step she took.

He liked her pert nose with the sprinkling of freckles across the bridge that faded into her cheeks. He liked the way it crinkled up when she laughed.

Her soft blue eyes, her gentle curves and slim hips rounded out the picture and deliciously so.

Cho had all this and more in the looks department if he was honest with himself. Then there was the fact that she was an Unspeakable. He wouldn't need to hide his work or himself for that matter. She already knew and understood him, perhaps even better than he did himself.

The fact that she was with a child wasn't a detriment, even if it wasn't his blood it could still be his child.

He wanted a family, but did he want one so badly that he was willing to just toss whatever it was he felt for Susan to the wayside without so much as an explanation.

On some level he owed her and on another one could argue that she owed him, though perhaps not in the same way.

He was only alive now because he'd kept her image emblazoned in the deepest recesses of his mind through the long, never ending, weeks of torture.

She had been a lifeline for him. It could have been anyone, if he was honest with himself, but it wasn't. It was her he'd subconsciously chosen to focus on to help him ignore the unceasing pain and humiliation.

He could have sworn he'd heard her gentle voice whispering encouragement in his ear, begging, pleading with him to endure another day, and then the next and the next...

Merlin,.. he so didn't need this distraction right now.

As if sensing the duress he'd unknowingly placed on his younger friend, Raven apologized. "Sorry kid, my timing sucks, I know...but I ,.. we...just want you to be happy... while you still can.." he gulped worriedly.

"You don't think I'll make it. None of you do, do you? "Wraith assumed dejectedly.

Hermione's eyes hardened at that. "I didn't say that. You'll never hear a single one of us say that, but anything could happen, Harry. I've seen great warriors win battles only to end up getting run over by a muggle motor bike the next day. I put ten galleons on you to win and no one took the bet against, kid. No one would,.. except maybe you."

Harry startled at that.

"You can do it ,Harry. All of us know you can,.. you just have to believe in yourself. While we're on the subject of believing in yourself. I think you should know that Susan Bones put up a helluva row when she learned the score tonight. She wanted to stay and help. She wanted to stay and fight with you. Beside you." He stressed that last and left him with a supportive smile and a wink of reminder that... "Cho does too and she didn't think she had to worry about what she has to lose, get it?"

He nodded at that and gave his friends retreating hand a squeeze. "Thanks, Mike."

His eyes followed Susan Bones's form as she left her partner to take a break. He knew it was Cho beneath the exterior, but surprising he realized that he wished it were Susan if for no other reason than to at least settle accounts between them.. she deserved that much.

Deciding he had better tie up this last loose end whilst he could he hastily made his way across the room to the one dignitary he knew was really still who they appeared to be.

"Can you spare a moment?" he asked hopefully, though his tone was more of a demand than a question.

"For our youngest "Order" recipient, surely." Amelia Bones agreed and let herself be led to an alcove nearby where a hasty and wandless silencing charm was applied to ensure a modicum of privacy.

"If I don't make it.."

"Nonsense" Amelia cut him off with an airy wave of disbelief.

"If I don't, please tell Susan who I am.. who I really am."

Amelia Bones goggled at him, not daring to hope what he was asking her and the burden it would take from her shoulders.

"Tell her I'm sorry. I'm sorry for everything. I'm sorry for hurting her and for deceiving her and everyone else. I never wanted.. that is.. I couldn't... not with Voldemort...and...well.. please.. just explain it to her. Tell her she can tell whoever she wants..I...I won't c-care..." his voice broke and he wiped a forearm over his eyes as he turned embarrassedly away and fled the area leaving a stunned minister alone to thank fate, Merlin and the powers that be for removing this terrible burden from so many lives.

"Bless you child." she whispered in gratitude as she watched Wraith head back to the bar area to try and pull himself together over a drink.

She didn't know how, but she vowed in that moment that no matter what, she would help others, no .. make others understand just what an exceptional young man he is.

And it would be is, not was.

Along that line, she hastily conceived upon a plan to afford the wizarding public the same view that she already appreciated.

Amelia Bones made her excuses and left the Ballroom for the adjoining safe room the Unspeakables had charmed with this evening's festivities in mind.

They had placed the adjoining Reception Hall under the Fidelius charm and had sequestered each guest there after having been scanned for the dark mark upon admission.

Those that had been found containing the mark, some nine unfortunate fools, had summarily been questioned under truth serum, tried and banished through the veil. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

They had guessed, and now they knew for certain Voldemort's plans for the evening as well as the dark one even did himself.

The rest of the true quests were escorted and detained in the Reception Hall for their own safety after having voluntarily provided a sample of their hair so that either an Unspeakable or an auror could impersonate them under polyjuice within the Ballroom. Some, Like Susan in particular, had been less than forthcoming in relinquishing their attire to complete the ruse. There had been a lot of gasps of outrage, impotent refusals and the like, but eventually everyone got on board with the plan to rid their lives of Voldemort once and for all.

Voldemort would, after fighting his way through a waning resistance, win his way into the Ballroom proper, thinking himself a wolf among sheep.

He would instead be a lamb for the slaughter.

Amelia Bones entered the hidden Hall and after being scanned numerous times by heavily armed guards, she made her way through the milling throng, ignoring many called out inquiries and demands whilst still offering a kind word, or a simple touch of reassurance in passing as she sought the object of her interest.

She found her irate niece huffing and sputtering angrily amongst her friends, all equally outraged by their treatment thus far. Many wanting to join in the fight.

Ignoring the young witch's glares and sarcastic barbs she immediately detailed what she wanted from her niece, piquing the girl's and many of her friend's sudden interest.

"Well?" Amelia asked, focusing her attention on Susan, though the entire group of Hogwarts graduates, in her year, were contemplating the logistics of the request.

Susan shared a quick glance with Hermione Granger, who nodded her agreement to help as did the others in the group.

"It's going to take several of us to charm an entire wall that this size." Susan indicated the shared wall between the Reception Hall and Ballroom.

"Use as many as you need to see it done, but see it done as quickly as possible as I think things are going to heat up rather quickly." she prompted in warning.

"Has the attack begun, then?" Ron Weasly asked, fingering his wand meaningfully.

"Not as yet, no, but my auror's intuition tells me it won't be long." The minister returned solemnly.

"I must caution you, however,..." she began to warn the group. "what you are about to see is going to be unpleasant in the extreme and by that I mean terrifying and bloody. Make no mistake, each side knows the fate of our world is at risk and neither intends to give quarter. This is for "all the marbles", as they say. She drew quotation marks in the air to emphasize her meaning and while many faces blanched, all looked resolute on the whole.

Susan stood up and with more conviction than she knew she had she began to lead her group through the task..."All right you lot, here's what we need...Hermione.. I need you and Ron to..."

It took near a half hour before the wall was prepared, but the work was finished quickly as while the rest of the many quests were curious, none interfered as Minister Bones was keeping vigilant watch over the proceeding.

Once the spells were complete, Susan Bones sighed a sort of 'here goes nothing' sort of sigh and activated the charm scheme.

The entire wall shimmered as magic danced across its surface until it turned clear and gave the audience a clear picture of the proceedings within the adjoining Ballroom.

Another wave of Susan's wand and after a few static crackles, they could now both see and hear the activity next door whilst remaining safe within their Fidelius hidden room, only next door.

The startled crowd initially gasped in surprise before breaking into appreciative applause.

Once the fervor died, Amelia Bones addressed the gathering.

"Friends and colleagues...Tonight, as you've already guessed is a ruse to draw the terrorist-Voldemort out. Whilst Voldemort is no fool and he undoubtedly knows this, we believe that it is just too tempting an offer for him not to attempt to take over the Ministry by annihilating it's personnel and eliminating supportive friends from other Ministries across the wizarding world, whom are gathered here tonight.

This room, as you know, is not only guarded by men handpicked for the task whose loyalty is beyond question, but the room itself has been hidden by a fidelius charm. In addition to that, the common robes you were issued are also, in fact, port keys. Should worse come to worse, you need only say activus and your destination and the port key will take you to your desired location."

There were many sighs of relief at this pronouncement, before Minister Bones continued.

"The wall before you has been charmed as a window into the proceedings of the Ballroom next door. You will be both able to see and hear the coming battle whilst all parties within remain oblivious to your presence. I caution you that the battle itself will be brutal as the Unspeakables and aurors within have been issued orders to eliminate the enemy with extreme prejudice."

Some viewers gasped at this thinking in their naiveté that battles could be won in a civilized and merciful way.

Minister Bones continued, ignoring the gasps and murmurings from this smaller quadrant. "For those of you who have no stomach for what is about to unfold then please; activate your port keys and return to the safety of your own homes."

Only a few 'pops' of displaced air announced the departure of a scant handful of the more squeamish individuals among them.

"For the rest of you, brace your selves as I'm sure you will be in for quite a fair few shocks. The very least of which will be the stark knowledge of what others must go though in the battle for peace and freedom. This is the first and primary reason I have allowed you this up close and personal view of the events that are about to unfold. Secondly, I do this so that one and all can fully appreciate just what the young man, you were brought here tonight to honor, has gone through in all of our behalf's."

Amelia gestured to a particular person within the Ballroom, tracking his activity until the room's attention was focused on him.

"That young man is the Unspeakable who goes by the call sign: Wraith." At this she paused and chuckled knowingly, explaining after what she found so amusing.

"As with most Unspeakables they tend to pick a code name for their operatives that has significance to the individual. None could be more fitting than the very one chosen for this young man, Har,.. ah, as you will undoubtedly soon see."

Amelia Bones left off cryptically, just short of announcing Harry Potter's continued existence to the entire room, as she noted the Unspeakables furiously exchanging hand signals and taking up strategic positions within the Ballroom.

The festivities were about to begin.